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By Gov. Mary Fallin
In just a matter of days, Oklahoma will have a new governor and I will once again - after 28 years - be a private citizen.
I’ve enjoyed my decades of service as a public servant, as a state legislator, lieutenant governor and a member of Congress, especially the past eight years serving as your governor. The best part certainly is meeting the many wonderful Oklahomans across our state and listening to their concerns. The challenging and rewarding part comes with finding solutions to their concerns and issues.
Despite two economic downturns during my time as governor – one underway when I took office and the global energy downturn early in my second term – Oklahoma’s business climate is healthy. We’ve diversified our economy. We’re training and educating our citizens to learn skills sets necessary for jobs today and in the future.
Oklahoma’s unemployment rate is the lowest in 17 years and with the new jobs and people moving to Oklahoma, our state’s population has grown to just under 4 million people!
Oklahoma offers an incredibly low cost of doing business. For the second year in a row, the Anderson Economic Group’s 2018 State Business Tax Burden Rankings ranks Oklahoma with the lowest tax burden in the country.
Oklahoma has one of the lowest costs of living in the U.S., plus the state has the second-lowest electric power costs in the country, and at the same time offers a great quality of life.
During my administration, the Oklahoma Department of Commerce has secured 526 new and expanding business announcements representing more than $14.6 billion of investments. When you look at job numbers tallied by cities and other local entities, the estimate is close to 200,000 new jobs.
We’ve made great progress in diversifying our economy. Oil and gas will still be a dominant part of our economy. However, the aerospace and defense sector of our economy has seen a huge growth in jobs and investment. In fact, for the first time in decades Oklahoma will have two aerospace manufacturing facilities that will produce high-performance, jet-powered unmanned aerial tactical and target drone systems. Other expanding industries include paper goods as well as steel milling; digital information services like Google; and large fulfillment centers like Amazon.
Pro-business policies that I supported and signed into law helped spur our economy and lower the state’s unemployment rate. They include:
Transitioning Oklahoma to an administrative workers’ compensation system committed to taking care of injured workers yet reducing the state’s average workers’ comp loss costs rates nearly 64 percent lower than they were in January 2011.
Making Oklahoma more business friendly by enacting tort reform measures: Oklahoma has moved from 42nd to 31st in reducing frivolous lawsuits.
Cutting Oklahoma’s unfunded pension liability of $16 billion nearly in half to about $8.4 billion.
In the area of education, we’re also making progress. New revenue sources approved in the 2017 and 2018 legislative sessions established a much more stable financial position for the state, and allowed Oklahoma last year to give a raise to public school teachers, which I had proposed and pushed for each of the last three years.
Teachers will see an average pay raise of $6,100, or a 16 percent pay increase - the highest pay increase in state history. Oklahoma’s teacher pay went from 49th to 29th in the nation, and to No. 12 when the cost of living is factored. In Oklahoma’s seven-state region, teacher pay went from last to No. 2.
We’re making progress with smart-on-crime policies and on how we deal with nonviolent offenders who need substance abuse treatment and rehabilitation, which will help ease prison overcrowding. I signed 17 criminal justice reforms during my time in office, including seven last year that will reduce the flow of nonviolent offenders into prison; establish a more efficient and streamlined parole process; and facilitate successful reentry that reduces recidivism.
I truly believe the future of our state is bright, with a low unemployment rate of 3.3 percent and $451 million in the Rainy Day Fund. Based on current trends and if our state does not experience an economic downturn, our state could see another significant Rainy Day Fund deposit later this year, which could bring our Rainy Day Fund close to $850 million.
The next administration and Legislature will have the resources to address many of the state’s priorities and to ensure core services are adequately funded. I’ll be watching from the sidelines cheering them on to take our state to the next level.
It’s been a great honor to service the people and our state in office, and I will always be grateful for the opportunity.